We first had the pleasure of meeting Ole Toubro back at Rezzed 2018, when he was part of the team at Danish developer Mighty Moth, working on the aviation exploration title Above. He’s since moved on to form an even smaller team, with his new studio Not-Disclosed Games. We caught up with him to discuss games, the industry, lockdowns, Pilsners, the connotations of the word "tolerate" and last, but by no means least, hot tubs.
So, tell us about your new company, Not-Disclosed Games.
We are currently two people working with coding and design. We have been working together for quite a while and we do some contract work together as well. We also have half a guy doing sound and we are actually looking for an artist with the right finesse and skillset.
Your first game is twin-stick horror/sci-fi shooter Universe Apart. Can you tell us about the game, and what led you to combining these genres?
We both really like twin-stick shooters and my buddy had made a tiny playable one so we just built from that - adding everything around it. Trying out different art, ways to make it tile-based and random, have long-term gameplay etc. etc. After we got the shadows working we knew we had to make some horror elements - that gameplay and implementation is ahead of us: So if people have suggestions they should hit us up on Discord :)
What impact has COVID-19 had on the development stage?
Well I guess indie game developers have a pretty clear advantage in this - most of us were already used to working from home. I actually think this might have been a benefit for indie games, I mean just look at this February Steam Festival - the line-up is pretty fucking awesome.
What is it like to be such a small team in such a humongous ocean of development companies? How big a risk is it to release a game in the current climate?
Yeah the talent out there is quite amazing isn't it. I actually don't mind being a tiny fish swimming among all these different companies. Be they huge or small, multicoloured or grey, quirky or mainstream, hypers or truthers. I think the medium has far from matured - perhaps it never will - and it is just quite wonderful to be a part of. Our game is still in an early stage, but we like what we are creating - so we are pretty sure others will too.
We discussed the process of creating, and releasing, games/music/art last night; how strongly we both feel about actually getting stuff out there and provoking a reaction - good or bad. Could you elaborate on that?
Yeah that was quite a good chat wasn't it :) I mean to really piss people off you can't be charging them as well, can you? Or is that exactly what the giants excel at with various broken products, stupid release schedules, in-game purchases or advertisements. I don't know. I just think many people outside games see every little hiccup as a catastrophe, they take it personally and some even want the drama. And the marketing teams behind the large games fuel this: There is no such thing as bad press! Fact is very few people know how stupidly hard it is to make a good game - and to make art, as we were discussing last night, you have to infuse that tremendously hard process with message and meaning, dare I even say soul. Some teams are at the right place and time to do that, and some even get hyped and reach a broad audience - to the benefit of everybody involved. Let me sail on my own tiny little hype train or boat or whatever: Universe Apart will have existential dilemmas and abusive elements - they are just not in the demo yet - or are they? :)
"Don't be too hard on yourself, trust your feelings and reach your deadlines."
Where do you see the future of gaming? Is it VR? Streaming services? Traditional consoles/PCs?
All of those… and implants and AR and huge simulations and tiny interfaces and stuff that game us. I actually think game theory integrated with everyday stuff is the next big thing - you already see it to some degree in software like TikTok, Instagram etc. Whole processes we interact with are currently being designed for our conscious and unconscious selves to interact with - and that is pretty much games.
Coronavirus has put the pause button on life, allowing many people to assess where they are, and what they actually want to do with their time/for work. With that in mind, what advice would you give to someone looking to get started in the gaming industry?
Ha yeah - I don't know if I am the right person to ask that - but here goes: Don't be too hard on yourself, trust your feelings and reach your deadlines. Listen to old songs you liked, games you played and loved, movies you adored - none of them are perfect. If caught in the right sardonic mood you could tear each one of them apart and paint them in the worst light possible... So: Do your best, believe in yourself and release!
What game(s) have had the biggest impact on your life?
I am quite fond of simple ones from my childhood that set a mood and let you live there for a while: Lotus, Wolfenstein, Lemmings or Commander Keen - and I could go on :)
In terms of real impact there was this aesthetic little game where you can only move right and you get older as you move, find a dog and another person to love and take with you, then the hair greys and the dog and other person are left behind as tombstones and you also end as a tombstone - that game made me cry. I can't remember it's name, or find it online, it might have been a flash game - that we the human race moved right and left behind…
I also thought quite a lot about the profound idea in Iain M. Banks’ Surface Detail where this guy hosts simmed VR hells for several other races. Consider that: Hell or gods does not exist, but if you violate certain religious laws your sentence is to be uploaded to a virtual hell! WTF? I love how that sets one's mind going about mortality, souls and life itself.
Final question... You're stranded on an island that happens to be blessed with power. Which console/gaming machine do you take and why?
Being stranded on an island sounds like a lot of hard work. I think I would bring a switch so I could play a twin-stick shooter, while being busy on the latrine :)
Thanks to Ole for taking the time to chat to us. Click here for more information on Universe Apart.
M2H, the team behind Verdun, have finally brought their latest WW1 shooter Tannenberg to consoles. Join us as we take a quick look at the multiplayer title on Xbox One.
I enjoy Verdun, but finding online matches is tough. How does Tannenberg fare?
At the time of writing, close to the game's release, the Tannenberg player base seems relatively healthy.
There’s usually enough players around to make at least one or two full matches, though it is a niche game and that may soon change. While we haven’t had to make use of the included bots to bolster numbers just yet, there could be a time when AI opposition becomes a necessity and not a luxury.
What about the visuals?
Tannenberg isn’t the prettiest game out there, but it looks decent enough on console. Motion blur can be enabled to soften some of the rough edges and the frame rate can be unlocked, though even when running on an Xbox One X the latter caused noticeable screen tearing and occasional performance stutter.
Would you recommend Tannenberg?
Yes. The old-timey weaponry and rugged looks might not be to everyone’s taste, but give it a chance and you’ll find a fun, alternative multiplayer experience that can be genuinely thrilling.
We Were Here Together makes its console debut this week; join us on an expedition to the Antarctic for some cooperative puzzle solving on Xbox One.
I enjoy a good brain teaser; will I find the puzzles too easy?
Puzzles start off fairly intuitive, but there’s a sudden spike in difficulty after the first hour or so that sees things get a lot tougher. We also enjoy a challenge, but too often it felt like we were relying on trial and error rather than our grey matter, with some solutions proving to be fiendishly difficult. More than a few times we had to resort to referencing outside guides after drawing a blank trying to find patterns or clues for puzzles that seemingly had none.
Would you recommend it?
Those who prefer a good amount of guidance with their games might want to steer clear, but if you’re a fan of the previous titles, or affordable puzzle games that don’t hold your hand, then at £10.74 We Were Here Together is worth a go.
We’re back with another quickie, this time for WarpTrough, a portal-grabbing platformer from indie developer Roofkat.
Campaign, you say?
Aye, but a very short one, maxing out at around an hour or two. It’s a decent enough offering (if a tad nonsensical) with monsters, demons and otherworldly beings all making an appearance. Throw in a couple of bad puns for good measure, alongside some alternate outcomes, depending on your choices, and the mode is worthwhile.
However, it’s WarpThrough’s gameplay, rather than its story, that’s the real draw. The weekly challenge mode prompts players to rack up high scores with a select character and level, and is arguably the meat of the experience.
Would you recommend it?
Yes. The £9.29 price tag might seem a little steep at first glance, but collecting shiny orb-like portals is surprisingly addictive (as anyone who’s played Crackdown can likely attest to) and there’s a good amount of replayability, particularly for those who enjoy climbing leaderboards.
Telefrag VR is a bold new arena shooter from developer Anshar Studios (who we recently interviewed), hoping to bring the intense competition of Unreal Tournament and Quake to virtual reality. We’ve spent some time with the finished article on PlayStation VR, minus online play due to it being pre-release, so let’s throw down the lowdown.
Those firearms are all on different cooldowns (no manual reloads), have two alternative fire modes, plus feature a unique form of weaponisable teleportation. More passively, you can also warp onto designated surfaces to bring a new dimension to fights, perhaps launching an ambush from upside down on the ceiling.
Mix these things together and the result is an experience that is, more often than not, frantic fun.
Sounds great, but just 1v1 deathmatch? Really?
It might sound sparse, but with the game being built around head-to-head play it’s one seriously action-packed tango! Telefrag is also set in an alternate future where the Roman Empire never fell and Gladiators now compete for glory in sci-fi coliseums, which helps to contextualise things.
Moreover, considering VR’s relatively small install base, only requiring one opponent for online matchmaking is much easier to accommodate - especially with cross-play between all major headsets also enabled.
Thumbs up then?
If you’re a fan of 90s FPS games, complete with gravelly announcers, Telefrag does an admirable job of distilling that familiar feel down to fit the VR landscape.
It can certainly be enjoyed solo against bots, as in our case, but online balance is a potential issue due to cross-play. PlayStation players have to choose between analogue movement and independent control of both arms, whereas Oculus and Vive users don’t, most likely placing them at an inherent advantage. If you can, opt for the PC version as a result.
We found ourselves quite taken with puzzle-platformer Etherborn after our hands-on preview back in March, so naturally jumped at the chance to interview Creative Director and Altered Matter Co-Founder, Samuel Cohen, about the project on the eve of its launch.
"I’d even build my ideas in Lego first so I could easily see and manipulate the structures before we spent time and effort putting them in-game."
Early on I realized that when creating a game, you have to think about where you put the limits. In a platforming game, the first limit can even be the direction of gravity. But if you multiply that by six (one per axis), you’re probably going to have a couple of headaches. You can solve that limitation by creating others, like making linear levels, or basing your movements on a stamina bar, or even not making a platformer at all. But with Etherborn, the point was precisely to create ambiguous and explorable stages that would act as navigational puzzles, which means the stages could very easily fall apart due to the tiniest of things. One wall a bit too high, and you may be able to reach it jumping horizontally from the other side of the world. One too short, and you might be able to fall into an unintended platform. So yeah, in the end, many, many hours were spent on each corner of the game because in our case they’d make a vast difference on the end result.
We find the game to be a very meditative experience; did you build it with specific intent towards encouraging mindfulness?
I wouldn’t say there was an intention of going towards the specific concept of mindfulness, but I get where this question comes from, because in a way, it intersects with our objectives. We did build the game with the intention of stimulating the players' sensibility, with a kind of design and art that would encourage a less focused play style. If you try to be too stubborn finding the correct paths and the solutions, the game can actually become harder. Since we’ve been watching literally hundreds of players since we started showing the first prototypes at events, we’ve seen an entire spectrum of behaviour and reactions at this point.
And what seems to always get the best results is when players just try to flow with the levels, explore a bit here and there, visualize the landscape in their mind, and try alternatives if their first ideas were not getting a result. Then it’s going to feel far more comfortable and the game should click in terms of “what do I have to do now”. But as humans, we usually don’t operate like this, myself included. We are very stubborn creatures and need answers right away. For this reason, we wanted to use all of the artistic elements of the game to express that you can just take your time, experiment, and figure out everything at a slower pace. The story also talks about the necessity of putting yourself and your world into question, although told in a relatively abstract way, so I think that helps add to the meditative tone.
Meet the Altered Matter team, who you can learn more about here.
How did you come to work with FoxNext? Have they been involved in the game’s development at all, or only its promotion?
FoxNext were planning on starting their Indie Fund and at the onset were looking around for potential games that they believed matched their vision - games that are innovative and a little different, but already have a bit of a track record. We’d been successful on FIG, won a few awards at events and even had a decent announcement so we had some traction already. But we were constantly in fear of not being able to deliver the finished game to all major consoles and PC at the same time. Their help ensured us more breathing room to finalize the game across all platforms and also time to polish and launch at a better time. They have also helped us with the production and planning for the final steps of development and the release, but full creative control of the game and it’s promotion was with us.
With your first project now in the bag, what’s next for Altered Matter?
It’s still a little hard to believe the game is actually out so we’re still stuck in a bit of haze and looking at what the world thinks of our first creation. Depending on how the game does in the next few months will pretty much determine our own future. We have ideas of what we could try next of course, but these are just tiny sparks of light in the back of our minds.
A huge thank you to Samuel for taking the time to extensively answer our questions during what we're sure is an incredibly busy launch period!
We called Etherborn "outstandingly clever and effortlessly spellbinding" in our review.
Almost three years ago, Chinese developer Surgical Scalpels announced that they were partnering with PlayStation to bring the ambitious Project Boundary to PS4 and PS VR. Now the tactical, zero-gravity online FPS is back simply as Boundary and focused on a standard (non-VR) launch. We recently spoke to Surgical Scalpels Co-Founder, CEO, and Technical Director, Frank Mingbo Li, about these changes and much more.
There's an incredible level of detail on display in Boundary's new trailer.
You’ve changed the game's title from Project Boundary to just Boundary since the original announcement - can you offer any insights as to why you made the switch?
Project Boundary internally [refers to] a [development] project and was more focused towards the game as [an] actual project we were working on, rather than anything related to a back story or some sort of secret initiative or organisation within the game itself. Changing it to just Boundary made more sense for the full release and kept it simple yet intriguing at the same time.
What new ideas are you bringing to the tactical FPS genre? Is there anything in particular that PS4 players can look forward to that they can’t experience in other shooters on console?
Well, there’s the Gyro assist aiming system. According to some gamers who tried it [at] PSX in 2017 . . . it was one of the standout features, [since] console gamers can finally play an FPS without fearing PC gamers' mouse advantage.
We also [have] a very cool feature which lets you customize the ammunition in your weapon clips between armor piercing, high explosive and EMP rounds. I haven't really seen that level of customization in a tactical FPS so that is something else we're bringing to the table.
Will we ever see Boundary on non-PlayStation platforms?
Yes, we have a vision to deliver Boundary to PC and other platforms if all goes well. We’d love to see Boundary on more than one platform if we’re able to, but right now we want to make sure we are delivering a solid player experience on PS4.
Can we still just expect to see Boundary launch sometime in 2019, or do you have a more specific release window to share?
The whole team is working very hard in targeting a 2019 street date. We know its a pretty big year in gaming this year and [there's] lots of work for us to do in the meantime, but we’re pleased with the progress so far.
Thanks to Surgical Scalpels' Frank Mingbo Li for taking the time to talk to us.
If Boundary sounds like your thing, keep an eye out for its releases on PlayStation 4 later this year. In the meantime, get every details on the game fresh from its (re)reveal.
VR rhythm game Synth Riders sees players enter a neon-chrome playspace inspired by the '80s and move their bodies to hit notes in time to the synthwave soundtrack, all in a way that's conducive to dance. This has seen the game garner a cult following and allowed the team to support its community with significant post-launch content free of charge. We spoke to Synth Riders' Abraham Aguero about all this and more.
Having just expanded the soundtrack from 16 to 21 songs and introduced a suite of new modes, all via a free update, what are your plans for continued support moving forwards?
We have more music packs lined up as we move forward. We are big believers in giving our fans great value for money, so our plan for the moment is to bring more content to the game, while keeping with our current pricing. However, we also intentionally wanted to help foster a community both in terms of beatmap editors and game modders. We get a lot of great feed from both of these communities who love the ease with which they can create their own tracks or modify the game. This in turn helps us get greater awareness and greatly helps expand the experience of the game.
Courtesy of the same free update, Synth Riders is now the first game to feature native integration of the YUR.fit software - how does it feel to help keep people in good health whilst they enjoy playing the game?
I think this is a huge evolution for Synth Riders. We were approached by Cix Liv, who not only co-founded YUR.fit, but also the in-game video streaming technology, LIV. Cix noticed the number of Streamers who played Synth Riders and recognized the synergy between playing the game and losing weight. We have always been interested in exploring this VR fitness niche, but Cix is building a whole business around it.
He has a great clip on Facebook that summarizes his vision for VR fitness, which he believes is a game changer because it combines fitness and fun. Players who enjoy active games like Synth Riders or Beat Saber are actually improving their health while they play. YUR.fit now helps these enthusiasts understand the degree to which they are burning calories. Synth Riders is stoked to be working so closely with Cix and his co-founder Dilan who have really helped us on a number of strategic and marketing levels.
Was the fitness element a consideration when development started, or more a happy side effect of the game’s involved motion controls?
Well music and dance was always a central component of our game. From our perspective we wanted our fans to have fun and get fit. YUR.fit wants fans to get fit and [have] fun. There is a subtle difference but the two are very closely linked.
Does the success of Beat Saber - a game with which yours shares many similarities - mostly excite or concern you? Is there something which really sets Synth Riders apart from the competition?
This is a question that we get asked a lot. Many people who had not heard about Synth Riders immediately think we are just jumping on the Beat Saber bandwagon. The reality is that we were both developing our games at the same time. Beat Saber came to market about two months before us and it wasn’t until they emerged that we realized the game existed. Personally, I think Beat Saber is a great game. At this stage whatever helps enhance the industry is great for everyone, so to be compared with Beat Saber is a compliment.
When it comes to the differences between our games I think it boils down to fighting a foe or dancing with a partner. The fundamental difference can be found in the titles of the game. Beat Saber plays off the word beat, which references the rhythm element of the game, but also the boxing component. You [literally] have to beat the game with your saber. With Synth Riders you are drawn into a dance. Because your hands are transformed into orbs [(instead of sabers with some range to them)] it forces you to move more of your body. Once you begin to master our game you really have to be dancing, you are playing with the game, as if it is a dance partner, you are not opposing it.
You’re currently working on an Oculus Quest release; how’s that coming along? Also, do you have any plans to bring the game to PlayStation VR in the future?
We have done a lot of work getting the game ready for Oculus Quest and if you ask our team it’s pretty much ready to go. We are just waiting for the greenlight from Oculus. When it comes to demoing the game, working with Quest is a breeze because the set up is so simple. Because our game is so active the fact that Quest doesn’t have any wires or cords frees up the player and helps them really get lost in the game, which is huge.
In regards to PlayStation VR, we have been approved as VR game developers and are hoping to have the game on PlayStation by mid to late fall.
As previously mentioned, you’re currently in Early Access - when can we expect to see the full release?
Our plan is to come out with a full release by this summer, when we will have more songs to offer and some other exciting developments, which are currently under wraps. But stay tuned. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
Thanks to Abraham Aguero for taking the time to answer our Synth Riders questions!
Check the game out on Steam, the Oculus Store, and Viveport if you're looking to have some fun whilst working on your fitness. Oculus Quest and PlayStation VR fans should also keep their eyes peeled for Synth Riders' impending release on both platforms.
For a chance to win 1 of 5 Synth Riders Steam keys, enter our giveaway.
Telefrag VR is a no-nonsense 1v1 arena shooter boldly said to deliver "what other studios are afraid to touch". Set in a world where futuristic gladiators fight for the glory of a Roman Empire which never fell, inspired by greats like Quake III Arena and Unreal Tournament, Polish developer Anshar Studios are aiming to bring a frenetic and competitive FPS experience to virtual reality whilst preserving player comfort.
Do you worry that the fast pace and gravity-defying movement might cause motion sickness in some players? Have you found that basing movement on dashes and teleportation, rather than smooth locomotion, helps to prevent that?
Thanks to Detached, we understand the motion sickness problem very well. On the basis of these experiences, we decided to implement in Telefrag VR the so-called dash movement, which aims to reduce the problem, while maintaining the dynamics of the game, which is our priority. However, during the open beta on Steam, players clearly indicated that they expect us to add smooth mobility as an alternative. The request for smooth mobility came from a group of hardcore players. So to keep the . . . accessibility, but also give space to be better and more open for involved players, we've added a second mode of movement!
I think the fact that players from the beginning have an alternative to the movement and that the game itself is built (maps, gadgets) to eliminate the effects of motion sickness is the best form of counteraction and we feel that we have done everything we could to make players feel comfortable.
Telefrag VR revolves around 1v1 deathmatch duels, but would you ever consider upping the player count and/or introducing additional modes like capture the flag?
The most legendary and exciting ([due to] the high stakes) duels in Quake 3 Arena were 1 vs 1. We decided that we would like to submit a tribute to this form of rivalry through our game. In addition, there are design considerations related to VR itself. We do not want the player to feel overwhelmed by the number of stimuli in Telefrag VR, our goal is to make the game fun from the beginning. At the moment we do not have plans for adding new modes, we are completely focused on the essence of our game: intense 1 vs 1 arena shooting.
Big, elaborate weaponry is central to any classic arena shooter, and so far you’ve showcased three guns which meet that expectation, but will there be additional weapons in the final game?
As you rightly noticed, the rich, interesting arsenal is one of the basics of FPS games. It will be the same in our game.
There are two more weapons ahead of us. The first of these is the Laser Pistol, which is the perfect weapon for all those who value precision. So if you loved Rail Gun duels in Quake 3, then this is definitely a weapon for you. The last weapon from our arsenal is [the] Particle Cannon – this weapon shoots a straight, continuous lightning bolt punishing anyone foolish enough to stand out in the open. Come in too close, and the alternative mode will snap and follow you. You can thank Quake 3's lightning gun for that treatment
To sum up, in Telefrag VR, players will have five weapons at their disposal, each with two shot modes. And another one… you can use [two] weapons (one per hand) at the same time. This allows for more variety of attack during moment-to-moment gameplay. Just imagine it, shooting at the opponent with one weapon and firing the teleport with the other to change position.
We’ve only seen one map so far; can you share any information on any of the three as-yet-unseen maps you’ve teased on the Steam page?
[An upcoming] teaser which we have prepared reveals a bit behind the curtain [on] the remaining battlefields. In order not to reveal everything, but also [further tease] the secret, I will mention that the next maps after Fallen Champion, which you could see in the Announcement Trailer, will be: Mobius Villa and Lazarus Grotto.
Mobius Villa is the perfect reproduction of the ancient architecture of Rome. The traditional Roman domus contains specific elements like peristyle, atrium and beautiful sculptures on every corner. It's slightly different from Fallen Champion, [where] construction was focused on wide-open spaces. Here, we are dealing with a completely different picture of the futuristic Roman Empire - Calmness and prosperity can be seen at first glance.
Lazarus Grotto: Do you remember Dagobah from the most popular movie saga? . . . This comparison perfectly reflects what can be found on this swampy planet. Dirty wetlands arouse anxiety, so you better [not] leave the playing field. Nobody knows what can be hidden in the nearby wetlands. The arena winds around a rock formation, which allows you to fight on several levels.
But these are not all galactic battlefields. Closer to [Telefrag VR's] premiere we will reveal more.
In what ways has your previous VR game, Detached, helped in shaping Telefrag VR?
From the design side, thanks to our previous game, we have understood the problem of motion sickness and how to reduce it, as well as how to create maps to maintain the proper, but also clear dynamic gameplay.
With Detached, we've been at the biggest gaming events, thanks to which we've learned to better observe how players play and how to ask them about feedback so that they do not give us only compliments, but accurate information. The fact that our previous game for some time was in Early Access taught us how to work with the community.
Finally, thanks to Detached, we knew what we did well in the game, but also the areas in which it required better quality. In a nutshell: without Detached, Telefrag was never there!
Telefrag VR is launching simultaneously on HTC VIVE, Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR with cross-platform multiplayer - does that extend to the PS VR version, or is it just between the PC headsets?
We decided on full cross-play. We really want all VR enthusiasts to be able to play with each other regardless of the platform. There is no denying that the simultaneous premiere with the cross-play function from the beginning is a huge challenge for our company, but also an exciting learning experience. Keep your fingers crossed for us, especially for the QA team!
Are there any plans for an Oculus Quest release?
I must admit that at the moment we do not have such plans. If something changes, of course, we will inform you!
Are you able to narrow the release window yet, or can we still just expect to see Telefrag VR launch at some point in 2019?
The premiere is very, very close! Telefrag VR will be released this summer, as you've noted on several platforms at the same time - this is our goal and we are totally focused on it.
Thanks to Szymon and Jakub from Anshar Studios for taking the time to answer our Telefrag VR questions.
If you're interested in their virtual reality arena shooter, be sure to wishlist it on Steam and keep an eye out for it on the Oculus and PlayStation stores.
Having begun life on Steam and iOS devices, FDG Entertainment’s Venture Kid made its console debut earlier this month on Nintendo Switch. Join us for another quickie as we take the retro-inspired platformer for a spin.
Eek! Sounds frustrating.
Don’t worry too much, as after every victory you’re given a new toy to aid in your quest, and perks such as extra lives or additional hearts can be purchased at any point (except during boss fights) using orbs collected within levels.
Would you recommend it, then?
Yeah. It’s pretty short, taking us just over two hours to reach the final level, but hidden collectables and additional Switch-exclusive modes (Survival and Boss Rush) offer some extra staying power.
Venture Kid is also cheap as chips at £8.99, and potentially even cheaper if you already own an FDG staple in Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King, Oceanhorn or Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom.